By Caroline Logan Cherry and Ashley Dale Henslee
Beyond the pristine gray walls of the State House, women attempt to amplify their voices, their stories, and their beliefs surrounding abortion in the hope that they will be heard.
Still, the loudest voices echoing across the state Legislature belong to men.
This fall, four members of a male-dominated Senate subcommittee ushered through a measure that would make it a crime to terminate a pregnancy after six weeks, when it is believed a fetal heartbeat can first be detected. The subcommittee made no exemptions for victims of rape and incest seeking abortion.
The legislation echoes measures passed in other states, all aimed at challenging the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
South Carolina women who champion a ban on abortion cheered the subcommittee’s efforts, while others felt compelled to share their personal histories in a public appeal for less restrictive legislation.
These public appeals, as well as the desire for the bill to pass in the S.C. Senate, prompted the full Medical Affairs Committee to include exemptions for victims of rape and incest. The exemptions came with a condition: women must file a police report alleging a crime prior to seeking an abortion.
It is this measure that will be debated in full in January by a legislature dominated by male voices.
The women behind the voices
As journalists, we covered these developments in real time and saw the passion and conviction women brought to these discussions.
We were struck by their willingness to speak openly. We began to understand that many women believe a public forum is the best chance they have to shape the legislation that exclusively impacts them.
Many women struggle with the idea that they must divulge intimate details of their reproductive history in order for their views to be deemed legitimate. Many do so with the hope that politicians take their experiences into account when drafting legislation.
As the events surrounding the fetal heartbeat legislation continued to unfold, we began to envision a video series that featured women talking about the complexities of the issue. We endeavored to provide these women with a platform that did not pit women of differing beliefs against each other or require them to defend their beliefs from public scrutiny or ridicule.
What began as a brief video piece evolved into a five-week research and interview project, profiling five women with different perspectives. Some were confident in their beliefs and described themselves with the labels we have come to know: pro-life, pro-choice, anti-abortion. Others reflected the deep personal conflicts that have driven the abortion debate since 1973.
Together, they form a mosaic, at this moment, about the state of women’s reproductive rights in South Carolina.
Jane is a woman living in South Carolina.
She reflects on her experience as a young woman in the years following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, as well as how her beliefs changed as she entered adulthood and became a mother.
Brooklyn is a woman living in South Carolina.
She reflects on the pivotal moments in her friendships that emphasized the need for solidarity among women.
Mary Kate is a woman living in South Carolina.
She reflects on the formative experiences of her youth that shaped her, as well as her experiences as a college student that both challenged and confirmed her beliefs.
Vicki is a woman living in South Carolina.
She reflects on her experience as an advocate and looks to the future of women in South Carolina.
Shea is a woman living in South Carolina.
She reflects on the exploration of human consciousness which influences her constantly evolving beliefs.
So what is the state of women in South Carolina?
We came away from this project with a deeper understanding of the wide range of perspectives women in South Carolina share.
Though this topic is most commonly discussed in binary terms with women being classified as either pro-life or pro-choice, we discovered that, in reality, the views of women occupy a wide spectrum.
Regardless of each woman’s unique background, they held one view in common.
They believe there is a severe lack of support for pregnant women, new mothers, and women in general, on both a federal and state level in this country.
In other countries, pregnant women and new mothers may rely on paid family leave and access to childcare services when bringing a child into the world.
Currently, there is no legislation in the United States that provides women with these support systems. As a result, women who become pregnant in this country may feel their options are limited.
A 2019 study by UNICEF compared 41 developed countries based on the amount of paid leave available to new parents. As the only industrialized nation without a paid family leave policy, the United States was ranked last.
The country’s lack of blanket federal legislation requiring employers to pay women during the period in which she is absent from work during and after her pregnancy means families must rely on employers and a handful of state legislatures for support.
Currently, the 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for newborns or newly adopted children for employees who have worked at least a year for a company of 50 or more employees.
For the majority of U.S. workers at companies with fewer than 50 employees, there is no legal right to paid or unpaid leave taken to care for a new child or recover from childbirth. Studies show the current laws disproportionately impact women of color and low-income women, who are less likely to take unpaid leave when they need it because they cannot afford to.
This issue is further aggravated by the lack of accessible and affordable child care services in this country.
In a 2015 study, the Committee for Economic Development found that only a third of families in the United States are able to send their children to center or home-based childcare facilities, and a disproportionate number of working-class families rely on relatives or others, or have no arrangement at all.
This can leave women caught between their work and family responsibilities. The lack of federal legislation surrounding child care often forces parents to choose between fully participating in the workforce or allowing their children to receive lackluster care in their most formative years.
South Carolina mirrors these national conditions and, in many ways, experiences them to an even greater degree. In the 2019 Best States report from U.S. News and World Report, South Carolina was ranked at no. 42 overall on the list. This report also ranked South Carolina 36th in healthcare, 43rd in education, 41st in opportunity, and 46th in crime.
Children born in this state and the families caring for them may struggle to overcome these obstacles.
Many women, including the subjects of our series, are outspoken about these issues and the need for both the legislators and the public they serve to address them.
Advocates today believe the federal government must take action in facilitating post-pregnancy recovery, ensuring a smooth transition as new parents re-enter the workforce, and providing access to programs that foster the healthy development of young children in this country.
According to a study by the New America Foundation, for optimal health of mother and baby, paid family leave should be a minimum of six months for each parent.
It takes the human body 40 weeks to birth a full-term baby. In that time, women are expected to keep working, sometimes at the expense of their bodies and babies. While giving birth is normal and natural, it does require time for birthing mothers to prepare and recover before returning to the workforce.
Some feel that a revitalization of the 1971 bipartisan Comprehensive Child Development Act is the answer to addressing this country’s lack of child care programs.
This legislation would have established a universally-accessible, nationally-funded system of comprehensive child care centers that offered families high-quality education, nutrition, and medical services.
The Act passed in Congress with bipartisan support but was vetoed by President Nixon, citing the broader fears of communism that were common of the time.
Federal lawmakers today are making efforts to rework the vetoed act to help overcome the child care issues the United States currently faces.
Today, as women in South Carolina and across the country consider their futures, they must grapple with the realities that await them before, during, and after a pregnancy.
A brighter future
Pregnancy Support Groups and Resources:
National Women’s Health Information Center (NWHIC):
- NWHIC offers financial aid and help related to a woman’s pregnancy, prenatal care, preparing for a new baby, and the care of her baby. The nutrition program provides health education, healthy foods, breastfeeding support, and other services free of charge to South Carolina families who qualify.
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in South Carolina:
- The South Carolina Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children serves low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, and infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk. WIC provides free food, nutrition counseling, and referrals to health and other social services to participants at no charge.
- Daybreak LifeCare Center is a division of Daybreak Ministries, a faith-based non-profit. The center provides up-to-date information about pregnancy, abortion procedures, and adoption to clients, as well as offers ultrasounds and treatment for many sexually transmitted infections. Daybreak serves all individuals regardless of age, sex, marital status, ethnicity, faith/religious belief, and sexual orientation. They do not recommend, refer for, or perform abortions. The center can be reached at (803)-771-6634, and all services are free of charge and confidential.
Healthcare Coverage and Medical Assistance:
- Healthy Connections provides coverage to pregnant women with low income. Coverage for the mother continues for 60 days after the baby’s birth and the infant is covered up to age one. To qualify for this coverage, one must be pregnant, be a South Carolina resident, be a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident Alien, and have a Social Security number or verify an application for one.
- Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health care in the United States and globally. Services provided by the organization include birth control, emergency contraception, pregnancy testing, pregnancy option counseling, prenatal care, cervical cancer screenings, STI testing, sex education, LGBTQ services, and abortion. These services are offered at low or no cost for eligible patients, with or without insurance. The Planned Parenthood Columbia Health Center can be reached at (803)-256-4908.
- Bethany Christian Services is an adoption agency that helps thousands of expectant parents a year. They facilitate adoptions for families in the United States and abroad. They have three locations in South Carolina. The Columbia location can be reached at (803)-779-0541.
Abuse Shelters, Trauma Services, and Hotlines:
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, has a child who is being abused, or is in danger of being abused, there are shelters where you can stay and 24-hour hotlines you can call for help.
- Sistercare is a shelter in the Columbia area that provides housing and counseling, as well as legal and financial assistance to women and children following domestic or sexual abuse. Sistercare’s 24-hour hotline can be reached at (803)-765-9428.
- Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands is one of 15 rape crisis centers in South Carolina and provides support to survivors of sexual assault and abuse. STSM provides a 24-hour crisis hotline, crisis intervention, counseling services, and client advocacy to survivors in need. STSM’s hotline can be reached at (803) 771-7273.
- Callers can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), and receive support from advocates in more than 200 languages. All calls are free and confidential.
- Callers can reach the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline through RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) at 800-656-HOPE (4673) and receive confidential support from a trained staff member.